What is the Voodoo religion and what do they believe in?

Where is the voodoo religion practiced?

Voodoo, a Creole religion prevalent in Haiti, New Orleans and New York City, grew out of the blending of various African ethnic groups, including Congolese, Angolans, Sudanese and Nigerians, who were brought into enslavement on the island of Haiti from Africa in the 16th and 17th centuries. Subjected to Christianisation by Catholic missionaries, these Africans merged their traditional beliefs with Catholicism. Voodoo religion played an important role in resisting slavery despite persecution by the state and the church.

The blending of Catholicism and traditional African beliefs in the Voodoo religion can be compared to metaphorically putting a white mask on black skin. The policy of slave owners was to suppress the slave culture and force them to assimilate the new one, leading to their rejection or reinterpretation of the imposed culture. The synthesis of Catholicism and traditional beliefs under colonial rule created a new religious system that became a means of expression and resistance for slaves and their descendants.

A revival of African roots

Voodoo religion can be seen as a syncretic religion, combining elements of Roman Catholicism with traditional African beliefs. This led to Voodoo spirits being associated with Christian saints, and some African spirits took on new identities in the New World. Catholicism played an important role in the formation of the Voodoo religion, being used as a basis from which African gods and spirits could help solve everyday problems.

Voodoo also became one of the religions that actively advocated a revitalisation of African heritage, recasting its beliefs according to the ideals of the 'African' tradition. This movement, known as "re-Africanisation", sought to restore black people's sense of self-worth and included the study of literature on African religious traditions.

What does a voodoo doll look like?

Voodoo's concept of God and spirits

Voodooists profess a monotheistic faith and elevate the Great Master, or Supreme Being named Bondye, as the creator of the lower spirits. They recognise Bondier as the God personified by the Christian God, the creator of the universe, human life and spirits. In this religion, according to Ninian Smart, "the Christian God presides over and sends his angels, the spirits, closer to men on earth: but in general we do not seek to have him do anything. So he functions very much as the High God of classical African religion."

Voodooist conceptions of God have significant differences from Christian ones. In the Voodoo religion, God is perceived as remote and not having the same personal nature as in the Christian tradition. God in Voodoo can be represented as male, female, or genderless, and as a composite of many spirits. Inferior spirits are created by God to govern humanity and nature, and Voodooists believe in the existence of an invisible world inhabited by spirits, mysteries, angels, ancestors, and the recently deceased. Voodoo is an animistic religion that believes that everything has a spirit.

Legba, one of Voodoo's most famous spirits, serves as a universal intermediary to God. He is the guardian of homes and possesses sacred symbols such as plants and shirts worn by children, indicating his role as a liaison between humans and the spirit world.

Sacred texts and the Voodoo priesthood

The Voodoo religion has no official scriptures, but it does have a priesthood consisting of four classes: the Divino, Boko, Sevit-Gede, and Hungan. Each class of priests is responsible for certain aspects of reality and social life.

  • Divino: This class of priests specialises in divination and interpreting the mysteries of life. They can make contact with the unseen world and receive messages from the gods. Divinos are also considered to know the future and are able to reveal the meaning of the past. They are usually invoked during important events such as illness, marriage, death or travelling.
  • Boko: These priests are guided by the spirit of Loko and control the mystical properties of plants and herbs. They care for the health of the group and seek to ensure their physical and supernatural well-being.
  • Sevit-Gede: This class of priests deals with death and the afterlife. They help the deceased transition to another world and avoid exposure to dangerous supernatural forces.
  • Hongan: This is the lowest class of priests whose job is to establish communication with the spirits and bring the initiate into communion with them.

As Roland Pierre notes, Divino is concerned with the human world, Boko with the natural world, Sevit-Gede with the world of the dead, and Hungan relates to the spirits on a more general level. These classes of priests together form a sacred community that guides and supports the spiritual and social aspects of the Voodoo community.

Voodoo rituals and spirit possession

Voodoo has no centralised governance or hierarchy, but believers have temples where they gather for rituals led by priests. The rituals include singing, drumming, dancing and gesturing, which aim to restore balance between humans and the spirits of the unseen world.

One of the main elements of Voodoo rituals is service to the spirits, which is done through prayers and rituals directed to God and the spirits. The purpose of the service is to obtain well-being such as health and protection. Devotees enter a trance-like state during which they may perform dances, give advice, or engage in medical treatments, acting under the influence of the invoked spirit.

Spirit possession plays an important role in Voodoo rituals. Believers can go into a trance and become possessed by a spirit, allowing the community to interact with it. The rituals also involve the use of symbols called vevers, as well as animal sacrifices, which are seen as a way of providing spiritual food to the spirits.

Although often associated with dark and mystical aspects, the Voodoo religion is an important part of the culture and traditions of the Haitian people. Its rituals and ceremonies serve not only to connect with the spirit world, but also to maintain social and spiritual harmony in the community.

Voodoo rituals

Unfavourable attitudes

Yes, there are common misunderstandings and stereotypes about the Voodoo religion that are often based on misconceptions and negative preconceptions. These stereotypes are often reinforced through books, films and other forms of entertainment that distort or exaggerate Voodoo practices and beliefs into scary or sinister images.

However, the actual practice of Voodoo is usually far removed from such dark and unholy images. Voodoo tends to be oriented towards spiritual and social well-being rather than evil and destruction. Rituals and rituals associated with Voodoo often aim to establish harmony and balance between humanity and the spiritual world, and to maintain the social and spiritual integrity of society.

It is important to remember that cultural and religious practices should be evaluated and understood in their context and not accepted based on preconceived notions or myths. Rather than believing in stereotypes, it is important to strive for understanding and respect for different cultures and their practices.


Along with rituals and symbolism, Voodoo was a way to preserve cultural heritage and identity for African slaves and their descendants. It was a tool that helped them maintain their identity in the face of oppressive colonial rule. In today's world, Voodoo continues to be not only a religion but also an element of cultural heritage that attracts attention and generates interest. Despite many misconceptions and stereotypes, the Voodoo religion remains an important part of the cultural and religious world, reminding us of the power of survival and adaptation of the human spirit.


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